By Rob McKenzie
What illegal behavior is part of your past? Speeding? Underage drinking? Leaving a store with an item you didn't pay for?
If you got caught, were you punished by a state-run website listing your offense and notifying others where you lived?
But what if those were your punishments? Would they have stopped your objectionable behavior in the future?
Because public humiliation generally doesn't work as a method of behavior modification.
And that's why Megan's Law, which requires authorities to notify communities of the whereabouts of sex offenders, is a bad idea.
In fact, a 2011 study in the Journal of Law and Economics by J.J. Prescott of the University of Michigan and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia University, finds that Megan's Law actually increases the possibility that sex offenders will offend again.
The researchers explain that when sex offenders are publicly identified, they're convinced they have no chance of getting back gainful employment, decent housing and normal social relations.
As a result, they spiral into depression, loneliness and ultimately that which is at the crux of their subsequent actions: desperation.
In general, when people are publicly humiliated, they tend to seek revenge by secretly (even more than before) continuing the offending behavior.
The argument here isn't that sexual offenders should be forgiven or excused from punishment. Sexual abuse is obviously a heinous behavior that irrevocably harms other human beings.
Rather, the argument is that with Megan's Law, the public ends up gloating over the eternal punishment of an offender and then "feeling" safer.
But even that assumption is upside down. Because if you search through one of the many publicly available databases of convicted sexual offenders and find an offender who lives near you, it only leads you to be wary of walking past their residence or even to avoid their side of the street completely.
That's not feeling safer.
Nor should you feel safer since Megan's Law makes it more likely for a sex offender to repeat an offense.
The line of thinking in this column won't be popular. But if we are going to let sex offenders out of prison — and maybe we shouldn't — we should give them a legitimate chance to normalize their lives.
What we learned all those years ago from reading "The Scarlet Letter" still stands:
Public humiliation is a shame.